A new TV comedy about a liberal vicar struggling in an inner city parish looks set to further inflame accusations of anti-Christian bias at the BBC.
Watch a behind the scenes film on Rev
A BBC press pack claims the sitcom, “Rev”, is “contemporary”, “heavily researched” and it “lifts the lid on how the modern Church actually functions and what life is really like in a dog collar.”
It was co-created by James Wood and Tom Hollander, who also plays the lead role as the vicar. Tom Hollander said: “we’re trying to depict a real world”.
Co-creator James Wood said: “The one word I would pick to describe the show would be ‘heretical’.”
The opening episode of “Rev” features a decaying, near-empty church attended by a handful of eccentric oddballs and senior citizens.
At one Sunday service, the church begins to fill with wealthy young families, but it transpires they are only attending in the hope of getting their children into the local church school.
In the second episode, a neighbouring evangelical congregation asks to share the church building while their own building is being renovated.
The evangelical church is headed by a tall, handsome, slick communicator who fills the church with happy youngsters.
But “the cold bigotry that lies not far beneath the surface of the evangelicals’ smiles” soon comes to the fore, according to one viewer writing for the New Statesman.
The evangelicals are shown to be unforgiving, money-obsessed hypocrites who reach a large young crowd only because of trendy gimmicks.
The third episode features a Muslim group that wants to use the church to teach Islamic prayer to children.
The vicar is keen on the opportunity for a multi-faith dialogue, but fears the move may be opposed by “prejudiced” members of his own congregation.
The Muslims characters are portrayed sympathetically, shown to be self-assured in their beliefs and moral values.
Inspired by their moral confidence, the liberal vicar decides to oppose a lap-dancing club that is planning to open opposite the church school. But he is anxious not to be seen as moralising, judgmental or anti-sex.
The more zealous members of his congregation start a “stop the filth” petition. One of the male members signs it but is later discovered to be a regular visitor to lap-dancing clubs.
The comedy, which contains adult language and themes, is broadcast on Monday evenings on BBC 2. When it was first suggested it had a working title of ‘Handle with Prayer’.
Last year a Church of England document about the BBC’s portrayal of Christianity made reference to the proposed show, saying the church would “wait and see” whether the comedy relied on “stereotypes”.
The same document said the BBC risks treating people of faith like an “increasingly rare species” to be studied as curiosities by an outside audience.
“Rev.” is the latest in a series of programmes that have fuelled claims of an anti-Christian bias at the BBC.
A recent storyline from popular soap, EastEnders, featured a Pentecostal Christian who strangled his wife while quoting from the Old Testament.
The same soap came under fire in 2008 for a scene where a ‘Christian’ character objected to a gay kiss.
The character, Dot Cotton, was shown getting to grips with an mp3 player, while two homosexual characters snigger at her efforts to engage with modern technology.
In January last year a BBC drama lauded for its ‘realism’ depicted a group of pro-life campaigners as violent extremists who murdered a child in a bid to force an anti-abortion video to be aired on TV.
The drama featured an actress who bore a striking resemblance to real pro-life campaigner, Josephine Quintavalle, who battled with the BBC in 1997 over the broadcaster’s decision to censor a party political broadcast by the Pro-Life Alliance.
In July 2008 an episode of the TV drama, “Bonekickers” showed a fanatical British Christian beheading a moderate Muslim.
At the time the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson said: “We are deep into the realms of BBC bias and ignorance here.
“Only a BBC drama series would, to quote the complainant, ‘transfer the practice of terrorist beheadings from Islamist radicals to a fantasised group of fundamentalist Christians’.”
In May this year Radio 4 presenter, Roger Bolton, said BBC television is in the hands of “secular and sceptical” executives who find religious coverage “tiresome”.
In June last year Don Maclean, the former Radio 2 religious programme host, said the BBC is keen on programmes which attack churches and there is a wider secularist campaign “to get rid of Christianity”.
In January 2009 BBC presenter Jeremy Vine said he believed that Christ is who he said he was, but doesn’t think he would be allowed to say so on air.
He told Reform Magazine that it has become “almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God”.
In October 2008 Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, said Christianity should be treated less sensitively than Islam.
The previous month the Christian best-selling author G P Taylor told how he was blacklisted by the BBC. He said a producer had told him the broadcaster could not be “seen to be promoting Jesus”.
In 2006 executives at the BBC admitted that they would consider broadcasting a scene where the Bible was thrown away but they would never do the same with the Koran.
In the same year the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said that Christians took “more knocks” in BBC programmes than other faiths.
Dr Sentamu said: “They can do to us what they dare not do to the Muslims. We are fair game because they can get away with it.”